What's New for 2010
For 2010, the Chevy Malibu gets minor changes. Most notably, the six-speed automatic transmission is now standard on all but the base LS model, thereby helping to improve fuel economy. There's also standard driver power-adjustable lumbar on all models and E85 fuel compatibility for the 2.4-liter engine.
The 2010 Chevrolet Malibu stands as General Motors' only foot forward in the midsize family sedan segment now that Pontiac and Saturn have been removed from the GM portfolio. Luckily, the remaining choice is also the strongest, representing a capable packaging of ride, handling, engines and style. Indeed, the Malibu is a huge improvement over previous editions and deserves a close look even if it's not quite a class leader.
For 2010, Chevy expanded the availability of the Malibu's six-speed automatic transmission to all trims except the base LS, providing improved performance and fuel economy. Even though that base car provides strong value, we suggest stepping up to the 1LT trim just for the transmission alone.
Otherwise, the Malibu soldiers on unchanged into its third year since the last major redesign. It still features a stylish cabin with straightforward controls, nicely balanced ride and handling characteristics and a pair of competent engines -- one that delivers strong fuel economy, the other strong power. Perhaps best of all, it comes in a visually appealing package that says "premium sedan" rather than "rental car." Although we could live without its flashy chrome-clad wheels, the Malibu sports clean, classy lines with tight panel gaps, and doesn't succumb to cheap visual add-ons like spoilers, side vents or body flares.
However, there are downsides to the Malibu, that keep it from being a true class leader. For one, its backseat is on the small side for this class. It's not a huge difference, but sit back-to-back in a variety of competitors and you'll notice less head-, leg- and shoulder room. It also lacks a center rear armrest, which is a common feature even in economy cars. And although the interior boasts an upscale design and some nicely tailored materials, there are just as many cheap, roughly grained plastic pieces that don't fit together particularly well. Finally, though the standard OnStar service offers "Turn-by-Turn" navigation, there is no traditional in-dash navigation system available.
In total, the 2010 Chevy Malibu is a solid member of the crowded midsize sedan club, but falls a bit short of being top dog. This year's heavily updated Ford Fusion earns that title, while the Honda Accord, Mazda 6 and Nissan Altima also deserve close consideration before you add the Malibu to your driveway.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Chevrolet Malibu is a five-passenger, four-door sedan available in four trim levels: LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ. Standard equipment on the LS includes 17-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, power driver seat height and lumbar adjustment, a tilt-telescoping steering column, OnStar and a six-speaker stereo with CD player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. The 1LT adds color-keyed side mirrors and moldings, a six-speed transmission and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. The 2LT adds 17-inch chrome-clad alloy wheels, Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, remote engine start, premium faux-suede and vinyl upholstery, heated front seats, a six-way power driver seat (manual back adjustment) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The range-topping LTZ adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, LED taillights, automatic climate control, eight-way driver and six-way passenger power seats, leather upholstery, upgraded gauges and an eight-speaker stereo including two subwoofers and a USB audio jack.
Options are grouped into a handful of packages that allow many of the higher trims' features to be added to the lower trims. The Rear Power package adds a 110-volt AC outlet and manual rear sunshade.
Powertrains and Performance
Every Chevrolet Malibu comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 169 horsepower and 158 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic is standard on the LS and a six-speed unit is standard on all others. In performance testing, a Malibu LS went from zero to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds, which is on the slow side for this class. Fuel economy for the LS is 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined, while the other trims with their six-speed autos achieve 22/33/26.
Optional on the 2LT and LTZ is a 3.6-liter V6 good for 252 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is standard. In performance testing, this engine brought the Malibu up to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds -- one of the quickest in the class. Fuel economy stands at 17/26/20.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. OnStar emergency telematics is also included. In brake testing, a six-cylinder Malibu 2LT came to a stop from 60 mph in a fade-free 122 feet -- a short distance for this class. Strangely, a four-cylinder Malibu with different 17-inch tires we tested provided a much different result -- a disappointing 140 feet.
In government crash tests, the 2010 Chevrolet Malibu scored a perfect five stars in all frontal and side crash categories. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Malibu its highest rating of "Good" for its performance in the frontal-offset and side crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside the Malibu, you'll find a dual-cowl dash design somewhat reminiscent of a 1960s Corvette along with materials that are much improved over previous models. Still, there are several cheap pieces and signs of half-hearted construction that sully the overall effort. Fortunately, the controls for the audio and climate control systems are simple to use, which should be a boon for drivers unimpressed by whiz-bang graphics and futuristic button layouts. Contrasting piping on the seats, once the hallmark of ultraluxury cars, is seen on LTZ models, while all Malibus can be had with tasteful two-tone color schemes. All trims also feature an impressively quiet ride, thanks to extensive sound insulation and acoustic-laminated front windows.
While the Malibu provides enough space for average-sized rear occupants, it is notably tighter than other midsize competitors in terms of head-, leg- and shoulder room. Another issue is the lack of a center rear armrest and grab handles. The trunk, while numerically large at 15.1 cubic feet, is shallow in depth and is further compromised by a narrow opening.
Striking an excellent balance between handling and ride, the 2010 Chevy Malibu's chassis provides confident cornering along with a smooth ride on broken pavement. The cabin is impressively hushed at highway speeds, and seat comfort and support are superb, making the Malibu ideal for long trips. Thanks to a wide range of adjustments, the driver seat provides an agreeable driving position, but some drivers might find the pedals awkwardly placed and the steering wheel too large in diameter.
The four- and six-cylinder models feature different steering systems (electric and hydraulic assist, respectively), meaning that the driving experience differs greatly depending on the selected engine. We usually dislike the overly artificial feel of electric power steering systems, but in the Malibu's case, several of our editors actually prefer the four-cylinder car.
In terms of power, the relatively fuel-efficient four-cylinder should prove sufficient for most buyers, especially when matched to the six-speed automatic. The V6 provides considerably more gusto, though getting the six-speed automatic to downshift promptly (for a quick freeway passing maneuver, for instance) requires a deliberate foot to the throttle.